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'Merit selection' for judges? No thank you

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Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

“Merit selection” legislation that would diminish judicial accountability to voters and enshrine in law attorneys' influence over who becomes a Pennsylvania appellate judge lacks genuine merit.

State Reps. Bryan Cutler, R-Peach Bottom, and Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, propose merit selection for Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme court judges, which requires a constitutional amendment. They'd be chosen by the governor from a list provided by a bipartisan, 15-member nominating commission, then confirmed by the Senate.

Nominating commission members would be appointed by politicians — the governor (six), the House and Senate majority and minority leaders (eight) and the attorney general (one) — so politics would remain part of the process. And with some nominating commission members having to be lawyers, merit selection — advocated as an antidote to lawyers' influence in judicial elections — ironically would codify their influence.

The constitutional amendment would require passage in two consecutive legislative sessions, then approval in a voter referendum. So, voters are too dumb to choose judges themselves — but not to vote away their right to do so?

“The way you have checks and balances is at the ballot box,” says veteran state Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Reading, about the real merits of voters electing judges. He's minority chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — where this merit-selection bill must die, for the sake of transparency, judicial accountability and voters' rights.

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